Time for National Hot Tea Month

Published 7:00 pm Monday, January 18, 2021

BY SHONDA JOHNSTON

January is National Hot Tea month, which makes sense because January is SUPER cold.

I would watch movies as I was growing up where people would cozy up with a blanket and sip a cup of steaming hot tea. I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to be able to do that (Florida is not conducive for cozying up under blankets).

Then I tasted tea for the first time and was not impressed.  I think it was chamomile tea, but I can’t be certain since back then I had no idea there were different kinds. Ever since then I have been trying to find that perfect cup to go with my blankets, but I had to learn about the different kinds and what I might like. So let me ‘spill the tea’ on the benefits and types of tea that I gathered through research from UPenn and Harvard articles.

Tea has been around for thousands of years. Most teas come from the Camellia sinesis plant that is native to China and India. Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world, after water, so no wonder all those movies showed tea drinkers.

The flavor of tea varies by where the tea leaves are harvested and how they are grown and processed. Some tea types provide more health benefits than others, yet all tea contains polyphenols which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.   

Black tea

Black tea is the most popular variety of tea worldwide. It is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. The leaves are dried and fermented, which gives black tea a dark color and rick flavor. It is caffeinated and full of flavonoids that are anti-inflammatory and support healthy immune function.

Green tea

Green tea runs a close second to black tea in popularity. It is also made from the Camellia sinensis plant but is not fermented like black tea. It is very high in flavonoids and has been shown to boost heart health by helping to lower blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol.

White tea

White Tea is partially fermented and may have cancer fighting antioxidants. It has the least amount of caffeine naturally, so it may be a good choice for people who want to limit their caffeine intake.

Herbal teas

Herbal teas, are similar to white teas, but contain herbs, spices, fruits and other plants in addition to tea leaves. They do not contain caffeine, which is why they are often associated with calming or winding down. I assume those people in the movies were drinking these types of teas.

Pennmedicine.org provides this great list of different herbal teas with their unique benefits.

• Chamomile tea helps reduce menstrual pain and muscle spasms, improves sleep and relaxation, and reduces stress

• Rooibos improves blood pressure and circulation, boosts good cholesterol while lowering bad, keeps hair strong and skin healthy, and provides relief from allergies.

• Peppermint contains menthol, which can soothe an upset stomach, can help with constipation, irritable bowl syndrome, and motion sickness, can offer pain relief from tension and migraine headaches.

• Ginger helps to fight against morning sickness, can aid in indigestion relief as well as joint pain.

• Hibiscus lowers blood pressure and fat levels, improves overall liver health, can help stave off cravings for unhealthy sweets, and may prevent kidney stone formation.

Caffeinated vs. decaffeinated

When teas are de-caffeinated, they go through a process that does often remove some of the health boosting properties. So though decaffeinated teas do not contain as many flavonoids, studies have shown the antioxidant levels are still present in high amounts. Herbal teas, which are naturally decaffeinated, are not specifically made from tea leaves so they don’t go through process that removes the caffeine. Both types of tea have health benefits so you can choose which would best fit your health plan.

It is important to note that additives like sugar, cream and milk can reduce the polyphenol content of tea. So for the biggest boost, try tea plan with too many additives. If you are seeking sweetness, try a dash of vanilla or cinnamon.

Now that you’ve gotten the brief run down on tea, it might be fun to try a cup of hotness as you snuggle in your blankets, just like those movies. I will admit that I have yet to acquire a taste for tea, after all these years of searching, despite the health benefits. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t even like cold tea (I hear the gasps!). But I have found an herbal tea, an African red rooibos, that I do enjoy occasionally when I want to cozy up. So that might be a good one to start with if you don’t like tea at all.

For those of you who enjoy the hot tea scene, keep on drinking those health benefits in moderation of course. As with anything, too much tea could counter those health benefits so one to two cups per day should suffice.

Happy Hot Tea Month!

For additional questions about tea or other health boosting foods, contact the Clark County Cooperative Extension office.

Shonda Johnston is the Clark County Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. She can be reached at 859-744-4682 or by email at shonda.johnston@uky.edu.